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Commentary: the new bridge


Unless every news source in the western world is totally wrong, on Friday, Governor Rick Snyder will announce an agreement with Canada to build a new bridge across the Detroit River.

This is good news for Michigan, good news for Canada, good news  for business and, at least temporarily, perhaps even better news for the people  who will fill the thousands of construction and other new jobs that will be created, some permanently.

The announcement is bad news for one 85-year-old billionaire, Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, who has spent millions fighting a new bridge, because he fears it would lessen his profits.  And the governor’s announcement is a slap in the face to the Michigan Legislature, too many members of which have repeatedly disgraced itself by selling their votes for Moroun’s money, which he lavished on them primarily in the form of campaign contributions. 

Now Moroun and his Detroit International Bridge Company are expected to sue to try and stop this project going forward. He has sued virtually everyone over everything, including his sisters. But Snyder and his team say they are ready for this. You can expect to see Moroun’s spokesmen and TV ads claiming the governor outrageously ignored the will of the legislature.

They might have an argument if the lawmakers had indeed voted to reject this bridge. But the fact is that the legislature, besotted with Moroun’s contributions, refused to act at all. A committee chairman who took Moroun’s money prevented the bridge bills from even reaching the senate floor for a vote.

Incidentally, they did take a vote in Ohio, a state whose economy is also affected by the freight coming across the Detroit River. Matty Moroun hasn’t bothered to contribute to their campaigns, and the mostly Republican Ohio lawmakers voted unanimously to support building a new bridge. There really are no downsides to this project, which ought to have gotten underway years ago.  Once again, it ought to be repeated that Canada is covering Michigan’s upfront costs, which we’ll pay back eventually from our share of the toll revenue. Private investors, including Moroun, are welcome to bid on the project. No tax dollars will be used, though this would be worth doing even if Michigan had to front the costs itself.

It may also help revitalize the economy of a depressed section of southwest Detroit known as Delray. In any event, I’d think it would be hard for even a libertarian to argue that the most economically important border crossing between two nations ought to be exclusively in private hands.

Those who know their history remember another case where a series of Michigan governors said a bridge was needed. Skeptical legislatures balked. They didn’t think the expense was worth it. Eventually, after years and years, a special authority was created to sell bonds for it. Finally, the project happened. Today we call it the Mackinac Bridge.  Economically, the New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River will be more important. And it has a symbolic importance too. In a time when Detroit seems to be collapsing, it is a vote of confidence that this area does, indeed, have a future, for at least a century to come.  

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